Oh, my dear wopeople (that’s “women” for those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Laura’s mocking word for feminists who can’t bear to be identified in relation to men), prepare yourselves to be very pleased. Apparently, Apple’s $20.00 word processing program “Pages” has a feature called “Proofreader” that wages a tidy little covert war on gender-specific expressions. Townhall columnist Mona Charen vents her frustration with the feature, which she unaffectionately nicknames “Proofreadress”:
Pages has traits that are not immediately apparent, however. While it’s a sturdy little word processor, it’s true personality is not revealed until you use the proofreader — or Proofreadress, as I now think of her. Yes, she’s female all right. Seems to have been designed and programmed by the women’s studies department at Cupertino community college.
In a column about Rick Santorum, I had used the word “spokesman.” The proofreader flagged it: “Gender specific expression. Consider replacing with ‘speaker,’ ‘representative’ or ‘advocate.'” Hmm. How would that work? The sentence read, “A spokesman said ‘there is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich on Medicare.'” None of the suggested words would accurately convey who was talking. Every one would have changed the meaning and confused the reader.
Pages just hates gender specific expressions and is constantly on guard for them. In a column titled “Assad’s Useful Idiots” I had written that Vogue magazine “apparently immune to shame, ran a fawning profile of the dictator’s wife.” Proofreadress was on it. “Gender specific expression. A gender neutral word such as ‘spouse’ may be appropriate.” Really Proofreadress? Spouse is a legal word, good for real estate transactions and rhyming with house in Les Miserables’ “Master of the House.” But as a substitute for wife, it’s ungainly and odd. Wife is a perfectly good word — in fact, it’s a perfectly good status, one that I’m glad to enjoy.
Proofreadress was also unhappy about the next paragraph of that column, when I quoted Vogue to the effect that Asma al-Assad was “glamorous, young and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Uh-oh. “Gender specific expression. Consider replacing with ‘women,’ ‘people’ or ‘individuals.'” It was a quote, of course, and therefore untouchable. But imagine writing “the freshest and most magnetic of first individuals.”
Yes! Imagine that! Not only is “the freshest and most magnetic of first individuals”a stilted expression, but it’s also a flat denial of one of life’s greatest mysteries — the mystery of sexual difference, of the complementarity of men and women. That difference and complementarity, in case you forgot, is inscribed into our very bodies — and, for that matter, our brains.
Why do feminists perceive it as a threat to gender equality to acknowledge that men and women are, in fact, different? Why are they unable to see that what is uniquely female — yes, I’m talking, among other things, about childbearing and mothering — has a value all its own? By denying the value of the uniquely female, they essentially say women are unequal to men, that what women alone can contribute to society is of less value than what men alone can contribute.
Words matter. If we obliterate all linguistic evidence of gender difference, we’ll have no vocabulary left with which to think of it — and our understanding of the reality of our very selves will be impoverished, too.